A recent study led by Kate Birnie, Ph.D., a British researcher, published in the journal “Age and Ageing,” describes superior mobility in old age among individuals whose childhood milk intake was at least equivalent to one glass per day.
Men between the ages of 63 and 86 were tested for walking speed and balance time and the results were analyzed with respect to other variables, including childhood milk, protein, calcium and fat intake.
Apparently, the British began studying this group of elders, referred to as the “Boyd Orr cohort,” in the 1930s, allowing them to pool data over decades. The milk drinkers walked 5 percent faster and had a 25 percent lower rate of balance problems decades later in life.
The researchers concluded that childhood milk intake may improve health in old age.
Similar findings have described a correlation between low muscle strength in the teen years and early risk of death in adult men. A British Medical Journal study published online revealed that among Swedish males, those found to have higher muscle mass between age 16 and 19 fared better in terms of overall survival over the ensuing 24-year period.
My take on such research is that preventive medicine is an art that starts early in life. It also appears that countries with socialized medical systems maintain a surprising capacity to track health events among their citizens, which is potentially both good and bad.
Americans also study populations over many decades. The so-called “Framingham group,” from Massachusetts, demonstrated how high blood pressure and smoking precipitate heart attacks, for example.
If one agrees that health and well-being require good nutrition and exercise in childhood, how can such outcomes be maximized? As parents, we can certainly model healthy exercise and eating. How about bike riding on the weekend instead of watching television?
Even with the best intentions, however, there are obstacles to be overcome. For example, who lets their children wander around alone in modern cities? Facilitating childhood fitness seems to require money, time and parental commitment.
There are also children whose health status creates challenges in pursuing healthy and active lives.
In my own field of rheumatology, for example, there is an increasing awareness of forms of arthritis that can afflict even the very young. Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, for example, causes pain and inflammation in joints and can lead to complications involving vision as well.
In the emerging field of pediatric rheumatology, dedicated clinicians attempt to extinguish the flame of such inflammatory rheumatic conditions, often using a combination of anti-inflammatory medicine as well as more sophisticated newer agents referred to as “biologic” agents.
The goal, in addition to minimizing pain and deformity, is to foster healthy growth and development. As much as possible, most modern pediatricians try to keep kids integrated into educational and social activities, even in the face of challenging illnesses.
Young lungs, incidentally, are particularly prone to developing asthma and other ailments when exposed to environmental toxins. It is troubling, therefore, to learn that a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control found that designated smoking areas in five major American airports lacked sufficient air exchange mechanisms to protect non-smoking passengers from second-hand smoke.
The airports in question included Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Denver International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport. Pollution levels within about a yard of smoking areas were five times higher than levels throughout non-smoking airports. These airports account for 15 percent of U.S. air travel. Holiday airport travel, it seems, may be stressful physically to all of us, young or old.
Scott Anderson, M.D., Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Clinical Professor of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis. This column is informational and does not constitute medical advice.